Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Easter message

It's a few days after Easter, and my kids are just now enjoying their Easter baskets.  It's been an untraditional kind of Easter, but I'm hoping it will become the norm.  Being a minister, Holy Week for me is a time of chaos in preparing for extra services and leading others into a time of reflection and worship.  I don't have the ability to stop and reflect for myself during the most busy moments.  It's hard for me to even guide my own family through the meaning of the holy-days.  My most meaningful time of connection is in the days afterwards when hopefully I take take a bit of Sabbath rest and think about the journey through Lent.  Spring is also hectic for our family as our kids celebrate birthdays three weeks apart in April and May, my birthday and Mother's Day is in May (along with commencement and other major events at work), and John celebrates his birthday in June along with Father's Day and our anniversary.  This year Maryn's birthday fell on the day after Easter, and we had already had a joint birthday party for the kids, an Easter egg hunt at church, and lots of extra celebrations and gifts from family.  It all seemed like a bit much, especially as the kids began fighting relentlessly over their gifts and their behavior started making their parents very grumpy.  Something had to give.

I had already broken the news about the (un)truth of the Easter Bunny to Maryn after she began having bad dreams that he was in our house trying to get to her.  She is frightened of costumed creatures and had seen the creepy looking bunny at the mall.  I let her know that that's not what Easter is about.  The bunny we saw was a person dressed up.  I promised that no bunny would come to our house delivering baskets.  Instead, Mommy and Daddy get the baskets and hide eggs, and we celebrate the holiday to remember how Jesus died for us, but then came back to life again.  She was reassured, and we moved on (with me hoping she wouldn't spoil the Easter Bunny myth for other kids).  I was bemused to hear Brady later telling friends at church that "The Easter Bunny doesn't come to our house."

I didn't feel good about giving them another basket of things to argue over, particularly as they had been unkind to one another as we had ended the previous day.  So I had an insight and prayed it would go over well.  I left them a note and a challenge with an Easter basket full of eggs.  For each empty egg, they would be responsible for doing something helpful, kind, or thoughtful for someone else.  Instead of the "put-downs" they had been using, they would need to find nice words ("put-ups").  They would need to accomplish 35 tasks to earn their gifts and celebrate the many gifts that Jesus gave to us.

I'm happy to say it was a success.  Brady woke up early (as usual) and read the note.  He took it matter-of-factly, and then explained it to Maryn when she stumbled downstairs.  There was no arguing or complaining; in fact, there was peace for the first time in days.  They actually worked together to find ways to help our family and others, and were actively involved in our church service that day.  It took two days for them to get their baskets, but it made them stop and reflect on the words they were using.  I hope they were as inspired by the peace that it brought to our house as I was, and I hope this becomes a habit.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

For my girl, who is now six

They say we'll miss these days, and although I argue that there are many days I won't miss, I do recognize the bittersweet twist of these moments as they pass.  It will never be quite like this again.  I have already forgotten the feel of the baby days that went by in a blur of exhaustion, and when I see her toddler pictures, it's like looking at a stranger.  It's hard to remember a time when she wasn't fully who she is now...clever, funny, articulate, demanding, feisty, and thoughtful.  How did we ever relate before she could tell me the stories of her day as we snuggle together in her bed? 

She is six now, and it seems so big and momentous.  We are out of the infant, toddler, preschool stages into the real essence of childhood.  She can read and write on her own and has chores for which she's responsible.  It's odd as I can distinctly remember being six and what it felt like to be navigating a world that was ever-expanding.  She loves for me to share my memories, and she laughs, because my life is different from hers, although we are more similar than she realizes.

We have already begun the dance of clinging and letting go.  She takes a step away, testing her independence, refuses to hold my hand in parking lots, and yet she won't let me leave her side at bedtime.  She argues relentlessly with me over insignificant details, pushes me away in anger, and then begs for time together, just the two of us.  I look into her eyes and it's disorienting.  They are my eyes, and yet behind them is a spark that is purely her own.  We are alike in temperament but I'm reminded each day that she is her own unique creation.  We are connected, but not the same.  She is learning that, and is teaching me, too.

The days are long, but the years are short, and these are the moments I want to remember forever:

Friday, April 18, 2014

Keep Hope Alive

There was once a tree in a garden full of life.  The bright greens, greens, and purples of spring growth were all around, and the birds sang from tree to tree.  There was one exception, though.  In the far corner a tree stood by itself.  Dead leaves from the fall still clung stubbornly to the branches, and its starkness compared to the vibrancy of the surrounding trees seemed to point to death.   A bronze marker at the base of the tree revealed the sad irony that this tree had been planted in someone's memory, and its seeming decline was another cruel twist of grief.  

A sight like that could make you sigh in hopelessness.  It could make you want to cut the tree down in surrender, another reminder of our mortality.  But if you stopped for a minute to look up, to look past the dried and twisted leaves, you might be surprised by something.  Could those be the buds of tiny new growth?  Are the bits of green new leaves emerging among the dying one?  It seems that some trees hold on to their dead leaves all through the fall and winter until the new spring growth pushes them out.

There are signs of life all around.  Although we may feel withered and dry, we are called to remember the cycle of life.  Yes, death will come for us all, but there is so much more.  Life calls us now, and it calls us again and again from our darkness, from our hiding places, from our refusal to let go of all that holds us back.

This is the message of Good Friday.  Though things seem hopeless, there is light to guide us through, and lessons to be learned in the dark.  Though we grieve, we also rejoice that we could love so deeply.  Though we are confused and feel abandoned, we keep walking through the uncertainty and find that there is meaning and purpose in the journey.  What can we know of light without the dark?

As you carrying your own cross this week, may you hold on to the Easter hope thought weeping may last for the night, joy comes in the morning.